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In the end, a proposal to adopt a January kickoff date for law firm summer associate offers proved too controversial. The board of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) decided Friday to back off a plan that would delay the summer associate offer process by as many as four months. Instead, it adopted two smaller changes to the recruiting guidelines: The deadline for students to accept offers will drop from 45 days to 28 days, and the deadline for students who have completed a summer program to accept job offers will move from Nov. 15 to Nov. 1. “There was a lot of work and a lot of hullabaloo to come up with a change that was seemingly modest,” said Jeffrey Boxer, hiring partner at New York firm Carter Ledyard & Milburn. Law firm recruiters and law school administrators on Friday largely welcomed the outcome. “To make any kind of significant change, everybody needs to be on board or the changes won’t be followed,” said Mark Weber, assistant dean of career services at Harvard Law School. “There were definitely firms and schools that would have complied, but the [NALP] membership was clear that it didn’t want that change right now.” NALP Executive Director Jim Leipold said that the organization received 800 responses to the proposal since it was unveiled in early January. “It became clear that there was no easy consensus or even a trend around one particular idea,” he said. “Law firms and law schools are both conservative and risk-averse institutions. The scope of change was very large and it doesn’t surprise me that there was resistance.” Under the initial proposal, all firms would have delayed summer associate offers until a specific day in January; students would have had 14 days to accept offers. The proposal was intended to solve problems with the existing system that were exacerbated by the recession. Firms complained that schools were holding on-campus interviews ever earlier in the year to give their students an advantage. The proposed January offer date would have given firms more time to evaluate their hiring needs and, NALP hoped, dissuaded schools from moving on-campus recruiting into August. The modified recruiting guidelines won’t alleviate the late summer recruiting rush, Leipold said. One thing nearly everyone seemed to agree about was that 45 days is too long for students to hold offers open. That time frame makes it hard for firms to manage the size of their summer associate classes. “Law firms will have a better sense of how the recruiting process is going,” said Jorge Juantorena, hiring partner at New York-based Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. “And in that sense it will allow firms to extend more offers, because in the past some firms may have been reluctant to extend offers until they have seen returns on the initial offers they have made.” Warren Motley, hiring partner at New York’s Davis Polk & Wardwell, agreed that the 28-day acceptance period will give firms more information about their acceptance rates and let them make additional rounds of offers. For students, 45 days is more than enough time to weigh offers, but 28 days is still “reasonable,” Webber said. The biggest benefit to students is that they won’t have to wait for months to find out whether they have a summer position, which was a big drawback to the earlier proposal, he said. Law firm hiring partners said they were pleased that they would be able to extend offers before January. Some had worried that a drawn-out recruiting process would inflate the costs of wooing recruits. Some proposed retaining the offer kick-off idea but scheduling it in November instead of January. “I certainly didn’t think the system was broken,” said Aaron Marks, hiring partner at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman in New York. “It would have been possibly problematic if that got moved back to January.” Of course, not everyone was pleased that NALP backed off its initial proposal. “I’m disappointed that the changes are not bigger,” said Thomas Leatherbury, hiring partner at Houston-based Vinson & Elkins. “But I know this is one stop in an ongoing process of figuring out the best way to do summer associate recruiting. I’m just sorry that this means all the law schools will hold recruiting in August.” Leipold confirmed that NALP would continue to examine the recruiting process and make changes if warranted. “We’re committed to working with our members about developing better practices, and we’ll keep looking for ways to improve.”

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